My wife grew up being taught proper etiquette. I grew up, well, not really caring about etiquette. Early on in our marriage it caused some interesting conversations about why we do what we do. Do we do it because it is culturally proper, or is there a deeper purpose? When I would do something that was not considered “proper etiquette,” my wife would not always feel amused by it. My response, more often than not, was “chapter and verse please.” What I meant by that was, “proper etiquette” should be grounded in scripture and not just cultural acceptance. Emily Post may have understood high class society in the early 20th century, but could she ground it in the Word?
Today, one would be hard pressed to look and see a world without cell phones. We use them for business, for pleasure, and everything in-between. Since this is true, shouldn’t there be some type of cell-phone etiquette? This wonderful technology (the smart phone) has a way of connecting us to millions of people in the world at any second of the day, but it also has a way of dividing us and separating us into a type of real-life social isolation. There is no reason to allow such a beneficial technology to cause us to lose our Christian decorum. While Paul didn’t use an iphone, the idea of selfish desires wasn’t lost on him. He wrote, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). When we decide to let face-to-screen interaction trump our face-to-face interaction we are not “counting others as more significant.” What we really are saying is, “my need to see what this ping is telling me is more important than you.” This is a lesson that I am still preaching to myself (I Corinthians 9:27). I don’t have it mastered yet . . . but I am working on it.
There are three areas that I believe we can look to this text and apply it when it comes to smart-phone etiquette.
The Phone Call:
We have all been there. We are standing talking to a friend, and we hear that familiar sound going off in our pocket. We have no clue who it is, but we have that insatiable desire to pick it up. That euphoric tug is so great that it causes you to pull it out, and at least glance at the caller ID. Now, is this somehow sinful or wrong to look at the caller ID in the middle of conversation? I would say, not always, but maybe. Unless you are expecting an important phone call it would be wiser and more loving to wait and see who is calling you when there is a break in conversation. The person standing in front of you is real. They are there in the flesh, image bearers of God. They are not made up of plastic and pixels. If you are checking your phone out of curiosity and not necessity you may need to check your heart to see if that is a violation of the Philippians 2 teaching. There are times when you need to be on call, but if you are just in regular conversation and you keep looking at your phone, or even worse, picking it up in the middle of the conversation, what is that saying to the person you are talking to? Most likely, the call can wait. Wait for a break in the conversation, and then check your phone. It seems to be a good way to show love for your neighbor over yourself.
The Text Conversation:
Texting is one of the most convenient and often-used forms of communication today. Eighteen years ago texting was the new kid on the block and you actually had to pay for each text that was sent. Today, the average person will send nearly 2,000 texts a month; or 66 a day in the U.S. With that amount of texts being sent, there is always a chance for you to have your face buried in the phone sending a message. Here is the picture again, you are talking with a close friend when the Pharaoh in your pocket comes screaming at you in the way of a vibration. What shall you do? Will you bow you knee to the Pharaoh’s command, or say “No, it can wait”? Denying your inner, and near innate, desire to read your text while engaged with someone else is a real desire. However, is it one that you should give yourself over to? Paul reminds us that we are to “discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness.” Thinking of someone else and denying your desires to check that last buzz on your phone is a godly act (I Timothy 4:7-8). As a general rule of thumb . . . if it is that important, they will call. If you receive a call just moments after a text, then that is a good enough reason to excuse yourself from the conversation to check and see what is needed.
The Social Media Post:
Social media can be addictive. According to the latest research, roughly 60% of all social media is seen via your smart phone. That is roughly an hour a day on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, etc. Let’s set the scene: you are at a social event enjoying your time there. The ding goes off . . . someone just shared your post. People are starting to comment about your picture. You want to see what people are saying. So you disengage, and find that comfortable and familiar place in front of the glow of your screen. You don’t even realize it, but the world is spinning around right in front of you, all the while you are letting your thumb do its workout. I have been there, I hate to admit it. I have been there way too often. I have fallen into the black hole of social media all while my children or my wife have been trying to get my attention. Social media has its place, but when it causes us to count ourselves more significant than others, we have a major etiquette problem. More than that, we have a sin problem. If this is true, it is not something that we can agree to disagree on. It is something that we must mortify.
- Recognize the problem. Seek the scriptures for answer. Like I said, I believe Philippians 2:3-4 has the answer to most of our cell phone etiquette problems. If we believe in the sufficiency of Scripture, we need to let Scripture speak to our smart phone habits.
- Have a set plan. Know what you are going to do before the phone rings, dings, or pings. Don’t just know the plan, but stick to it.
- Turn off all notifications. If you want to know who all likes your post, you can do that at a designated time. We must always remember that we own our cell phones, they don’t own us. Yet, when we leave on all of our notifications, it can be a real test of ownership when she comes calling.
- See face-to-face interaction as valuable. Don’t let your plastic mistress rob you of the joy of being face to face with your family and friends. No screen time will ever be able to take the place of face time.
We live in a day and age where the cell phone rules the day. Let us never forget that Scripture has an answer for every area of our life. If there is any advice that I could give (not just you but myself as well) in the way of cell phone etiquette, it would be from the lips of Jim Elliot: “Wherever you are, be all there.” Don’t get sucked into your phone at the expense of the people around you. You tell your phone what you want it to do and make sure that it listens. Wherever you are, don’t let your smart phone take you away from there. It isn’t proper etiquette and it really isn’t Christ-like either.
Soli Deo Gloria,
Adam B. Burrell